DARTMOUTH – When I meet Jean Snow, she’s gardening behind a group home near downtown Dartmouth. She sits in her garden, snipping off green mizuna leaves to put in the weekly vegetable boxes she gives her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members. The greens are an ideal crop for an urban farmer with limited space, as they grow quickly and can be harvested every week, explains Snow. One of the biggest challenges facing urban farmers like Snow, who co-owns Dartmouth’s Lake City Farm with her husband Bob Kropla, is a lack of space. Like many city farmers, Snow has overcome this obstacle by embracing Small Plot Intensive Farming (SPIN) methods, which include farming in backyards around the city and planting strategically.
After reading about exchanging land for food on the internet, Snow decided to give it a try. It’s her third year growing chemical and herbicide free produce in Dartmouth and she says it was easy to find people willing to let her plant food in their backyards. “Everyone who is part of this has come to me and asked to be part of it,” she says. “They hear about it and they get it. They think it’s a fabulous idea and they seek me out.” She and a small team work the land in private homes on Hawthorne St., Slater St., in Waverly and Cole Harbour and at Snow’s own home on Murray Hill Dr.
These backyard veggies can wind up on the menus of local restaurants such as Nectar, The Wooden Monkey, Pipa, Chives, Local Source and in the dining room of The Links at Montaque, a Dartmouth golf course. Snow fertilizes her plots with manure from the horse farm at the golf course. “It’s really gone full circle there,” she says happily. Lake City Farm’s produce is also available at the Dartmouth Farmer’s Market.
Still, “it’s hard to make money with food, whether you’re a farmer inside the city or outside.” Three dollars of greens is actually worth a lot more when you consider the labour that goes into making that bag of greens, explains Snow. “We’re going to change our plan a bit for next year,” she says. Snow plans to ask landowners to pay her for the labour of planting and maintaining a garden, rather than to simply trade their land for food. She’ll offer landowners labour discounts if they give their excess veggies to Lake City Farm, which will in turn be used in weekly CSA boxes. The plan would work best for small families who want a vegetable garden, but who wouldn’t be able to eat all the produce Snow would grow on their land.
City farming definitely has a steep learning curb. Regardless, Snow is determined to grow more food in the city. “You learn every day. You learn every hour,” she says.